Tech tips for 2018

Post date: 
Tuesday, 9 January 2018
Picture of blog author Robin Christopherson

To help you stay on top of technology in 2018, Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at disability charity AbilityNet, looks at some of last year's top developments and shares tips on what to look out for in the new one.

Apps 

Be My Eyes 

Be My Eyes is an app for your smartphone (now available on Android as well as iPhone) that can connect you to a sighted volunteer who can answer questions and read things for you. 
 
Simply open the app and point your smartphone camera at whatever you want help identifying. Once you are connected with a sighted volunteer, the camera will start a videocall. 
 
Be My Eyes is great for mobility because the person will be able to read road signs, describe objects or tell you how many minutes are left on the dishwasher programme. 
 

Image of a pair of Aira GlassesAira 

Aira is another app which also connects you to a sighted person who can identify things for you. But with this app, you pay a monthly subscription. 
 
For your money, you get a pair of glasses with a head-mounted camera, and the assistant at the other end of the line is trained to help people with vision impairment. 
 
The monthly subscription varies depending on how much you use Aira. If you are going to be using it heavily, then it will cost you quite a lot. 

Home assistants 

This year, I cannot emphasise strongly enough how important virtual assistants, or voice assistants, are going to be for people with vision impairment. 
 
Many people already use voice‑controlled devices around the home to do all sorts of things, from checking the weather or controlling the thermostat. But device capabilities are getting better all the time. 
 
The two most popular virtual assistants, are the Amazon Echo and Google Home. There are now over a dozen Echoes to choose from and several hundred capabilities or “skills” added each week. 
 
Other products include Apple’s HomePod which is coming out soon, and Microsoft have brought out Invoke. Both are very much focused on playing music and not so much on the different skills and functionalities that you can use with the Echo or the Google Home.
 

Assistance on the go

Amazon is bringing out a pair of smart glasses that will provide all the functionality of your home‑based virtual assistant, for example your Echo, with you wherever you go. Soon you will be able to talk into a built-in microphone and the device will speak back to you using a little speaker behind your ear.
 
If you have a speech or hearing impairment, there will be other considerations you need to think about. There are ways around it, and there are still virtual assistants that can work for you. 
 

Photo of fitness instructor facing a cycling classFitness 

We should all exercise on a regular basis, but if you have vision impairment, it is sometimes just a little bit harder. 
 
Here are two low-tech tips to really get your heart going: 

Exercise at home

The first is very simple – running up and down the stairs at home. You can easily set a timer on your phone or you can ask your virtual assistant set a timer for 10 seconds, or five minutes if you want to walk. That is an incredibly easy way of keeping fit (unless you live in a bungalow). 
 

Spinning classes

The second tip is spinning classes. I recently went to a spin class for the first time and absolutely loved it, although I did nearly collapse of exhaustion. Joking aside, spinning is really accessible. 
 
Around 20 stationary bikes sit facing an instructor at the front of the exercise class. The instructor leads the workout which is set to music to make it fun. To increase the resistance, simply turn a knob on the bike half a turn to the right. Turn it another half turn to the right and it works harder still. 
 
A spin class is about 45 minutes long, and if you need to lower the resistance to meet your own fitness levels or strength, the instructor is not going to tell you off if you want to turn it down a bit. 
 

Further information

  • If you would like to know more about the Amazon Echo, check out Robin's article about its unique features, or listen to his daily podcast, called Dot to Dot. Just search for it on iTunes or your regular podcast app. 
  • For advice about using virtual assistants when you have a speech or hearing impairment or to learn more about AbilityNet, visit their website or call 0800 269 545. 

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